Even by ISIS’ brutal standards, the video is horrific. Twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded on a beach in Libya.
Christians across the world expressed horror and outrage at the mass killing, with Pope Francis calling the victims “martyrs” whose violent deaths should unite the fractured Christian community.
Remarkably, though, a leading Coptic Christian bishop says that he has already forgiven the ISIS soldiers who slaughtered his fellow Copts.
Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, was in Washington on Friday for the swearing-in of the United States’ new ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, David Saperstein. Angaelos spoke to CNN about why ISIS targets Coptic Christians, and why he forgives them, even as he rejects their horrific acts.
Q: What was the first thing that came to your mind when you heard about ISIS killing the Coptic Christians?
A: I suppose I had a sense of the inevitable happening. We knew that it was going to happen by the way ISIS was sending out information about the captives, parading them on video. It was all very orchestrated. It was shocking to see how that could happen today in the 21st century.
But we also saw strength and bravery in those men, and the number of messages and calls we’ve received in solidarity, the condolences and support has been overwhelming. This crime is not just a crime against Coptic Christians. It is a crime against humanity, and if there’s anything we should stand for as human beings, first and foremost it’s the sanctity of all human life.
Q: Not long after the video released, you tweeted about the killings, using the hashtag #FatherForgive. Did you mean that you forgive ISIS?
A: Yes. It may seem unbelievable to some of your readers, but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.
Q: You and many others had publicly prayed for ISIS to release the Copts and yet they were killed in a brutal manner. How do you maintain faith in God or in prayer after such a horrific outcome?
A: I learned a long time ago that when one prays, one prays for the best outcome, not knowing what that outcome would be. Of course, I prayed that they would be safe. But I also prayed that, when the moment came, they would have the peace and strength to be able to get through it. It doesn’t change my view of God that these 21 men died in this way. They were sacrificed, but so much has come out of it. They brought the imminent dangers to marginalized peoples, not just Christians, but Yazidis and others in the Middle East, to the attention of the whole world.
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